In what will be the last game of the pre-season, Coach Billy Donovan is expected to give significant minutes to the Thunder's stars. So far, the Thunder's big three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka have only sat out a single game. Donovan has played Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka in the fourth quarter during this pre-season as well. Aside from injury, the only other player to miss time due to rest has been Nick Collison.
The Utah Jazz and Coach Quin Snyder have taken a similar direction to their pre-season. All of the Utah Jazz' top five scorers have averaged over 20 minutes when healthy. However, two of those scorers, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward, may not play tonight due to minor injuries. If Favors and Hayward are to sit, Trevor Booker and Rodney Hood will take their place in the starting lineup.
What to Expect
Overall, the Jazz are going to be a very formidable opponent in the coming months. Utah went 19-10 after the All-Star break last season, and their roster has changed very little since then. One of those Jazz wins came against the Thunder. Steven Adams went out early in that game, and the Jazz were able to get whatever they wanted in the paint. Utah went up big, then slowed the pace of the game down and sat on their lead. Obviously, that game was played without Kevin Durant or Serge Ibaka, but it's a good example of what the Jazz can do.
Indeed, tonight should be a great example of two different styles of play colliding. The Thunder are slated to be one of the league's most potent offensive teams, and will get out in transition as much as possible. The Jazz, on the other hand, had the league's slowest pace last year. Additionally, the Jazz had the league's highest rebounding percentage last year. Basically, Utah accounts for subpar offense by maximizing the number of possessions they can get. The one problem with that strategy is Utah's high turnover rate. The Jazz were in the league's top 10 in turnovers per game last year, and it can be blamed for a number of losses.
Thus, the Thunder will have to do all they can to generate turnovers and get out in transition. That hasn't been too much of a problem this pre-season, with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, and Dion Waiters averaging a steal and a half a game. OKC will also have to take care of the ball. The Jazz don't like to push the pace, but they'll certainly run out any fast breaks they get.
How OKC's players are doing
The big performers from the Thunder so far this pre-season have been whom you'd expect. What's been unexpected is the ridiculous efficiency at which everyone is scoring. Russell Westbrook is shooting 49%, which would be good for a career-high. Same goes for Kevin Durant at 54%, Enes Kanter at 71%, Serge Ibaka at 59%, and Dion Waiters at 47%. For the most part, it's hard to fault how anyone has played so far. The starters have looked strong, building large leads against every opponent so far. The bench has been up and down, but it's apparent that there's no shortage of options.
There are a few things to nitpick, though. Anthony Morrow started strong in the first two games, but has seen his shooting percentage dip to 37. Having seen the games, I think part of it is the fact that Morrow is having to receive passes at weird angles or at too much of a velocity. Morrow's release emphasizes grip because it's so quick. Thus, it's ideal for Morrow to get a soft pass from a short distance. This hasn't happened too much in the past few games, so I'm willing to give Morrow a pass for now.
The other nitpick I have has been the lack of minutes for Cameron Payne. Right now, D.J. Augustin has 19 minutes a game compared to Payne's 13. In the most recent game against the Nuggets, Payne only saw garbage time. That would indicate that Donovan has more faith in Augustin at this point. But Augustin is shooting 27% from the field and 9% from beyond the arc. That's abysmally low. When you take into account Augustin's small size on defense, it's hard to see him having a consistently positive effect. Still, Augustin is a very smart decision maker on offense, played college ball with KD, and has 8 years of NBA experience. All of those things can go a long way in the NBA.
In terms of injuries, the Thunder have been extremely lucky so far. Steven Adams had to leave Sunday's game against the Nuggets due to being poked in the eye, but he's good to go tonight. Mitch McGary is currently out with a concussion, but he hopefully won't miss more than a few games.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 119, Utah Jazz 99.
|2015 NBA Pre-Season Game 6|
|October 20th, 2015|
|EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah|
|7 PM Central Daylight Time|
|TV: ROOT Sports|
|Injury Report: Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward (Questionable), Mitch McGary, Dante Exum (Out)|
|Last Season's Matchups: Nov 19 (L 81-98), Nov 26 (W 97-82), Jan 9 (W 99-94), Mar 28 (L 89-94)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Trey Burke|
|Andre Roberson||SG||Alec Burks|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Rodney Hood|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Trevor Booker|
|Steven Adams||C||Tibor Pleiss|